I've been struggling with thoughts and feelings about the recent slaughter of 20 children in Newtown, Connectcut. I'm sure many of you are, also. Sometimes terrible events overload the senses.
The second foundation of mindfulness is mindfulness of feelings. "Feelings" include both physical sensations and emotions. Our emotions may be a jumbled mess now that a few days have passed, but let's be mindful of them anyway.
Psychologists sometimes talk about "primary" and "secondary," even "tertiary," emotions. A primary emotion is the first flush of feeling that accompanies one's recognition that something has happened. Secondary emotions crowd in later and usually overwhelm the primary emotion.
For example, a burst of sorrow or anger might quickly be replaced by blaming. Or, on hearing good news, our initial joy might be drowned in anxiety that our good fortune may not last. Another way to think of this is that a primary emotion might be a natural, "ordinary mind" response that is soon buried under conditioned-mind discrimination and self-clinging.
In practicing mindfulness of feelings to a tragic event, be with the primary emotion. Don't try to shut it out or analyze it. Susan Piver writes,
"Using ideas to treat or metabolize feelings doesn't work.
"Then what? I'm afraid that there is not much we can do other than to be absolutely, irredeemably heartbroken. It turns out that this is helpful. Weep, sob, rage. Weep, sob, rage. Every time your mind tries to tell you, "this is because of poor gun control," or "this world is rotten, terrible and I have to ignore it in order to survive," and/or "if mental healthcare was better, we could help people before they explode into violence," please ask it to wait. I'm not saying we shouldn't act. WE SHOULD. But before we act, we should feel. Allow your heart to break. Let down your guard. There is strange redemption in heartbreak.
"Then, in your own way, you could open your heart to the suffering of all who have been directly involved."
Susan Piver follows this with a tonglen exercise to open the heart to compassion. This is highly recommended.